I Last Read: The Bluest Eye

Okay, It’s not really the last thing I read, but it’s the last book that I read that I was really blown away by. I had never read anything by Toni Morrison before, and now I wonder where she’s been all my life.

I read the book last semester as part of my Woman and Gender course, and I must say, having now read the book, I couldn’t think of a more engaging and appropriate novel for such a course. In my mind, the book perfectly encapsulates race, gender, and class in a way that is definitive but not manipulative or cloying.

The book takes place in the town of Lorain,Ohio in the 1940s. Given that the novel begins with a description of how a young Black girl named Pecola had given birth to a stillborn baby- the product of rape by her father, no less- establishes the bleak, brutal and unflinchingly honest tone to the story and Morrison’s writing. This is a book that will break your heart but really move you emotionally- beyond just “well, isn’t that sad” to something much more significant.

Given the feminist lens I used to read the book with, I basically saw the novel as an incredibly successful showcasing of conferred dominance and unearned privilege. Specifically, I saw Morrison using these concepts as overarching themes to illustrate how the misery and self-loathing of the two central characters of the story- the young Claudia and Pecola, although to differing degrees, is guaranteed by the environment in which they live. Morrison shows through inter weaved vignettes how Pecola is severely underprivileged and oppressed by the society in which she lives, a society that has thoroughly convinced her family, and subsequently herself, that she is ugly. As a result, she fixates on somehow acquiring blue eyes as a means to overcome her ugliness. This is no surprise, given that she lives in a world where blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white baby dolls are treasured above all others, and where Shirley Temple is the only example of girlhood beauty. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well for Pecola. However, Morrison never demonizes those who lead to Pecola’s unraveling- there are no purely “good” or “evil” characters in this story.

I could go on and on- I already wrote a pretty lengthy research paper on it! Just read the book for yourself! Morrison’s writing is so… I can’t even describe. Every word glitters on the page.

Hannah Hoch: Ahead of her Time

Hannah Hoch was making work about gender and femininity before it was cool. More specifically, during the era of Dada in Berlin.

                             

-Hannah Hoch, Grotesque, 1963-

I’m not the biggest fan of photomontage, but I really admire Hannah Hoch’s work, especially since it was very much ahead of its time. She managed to be the only woman “accepted” into the Dada circle in the early 1900’s. Apparently, a bone of contention was that her work wasn’t “political” enough. Not surprising for a boy’s club to fail to recognize how overtly political exploring gender performance and sexual identity is. Her work predates the use of the phrase “the personal is political” by the feminist movement by about 40 years.

                           

-Hannah Hoch, Dompteuse, 1930.-

Imagine that! A work that embraces an androgynous gaze. Sometimes when studying art, as a woman, it can get a bit annoying to look at work after work that I can consciously recognize wasn’t made with the expectation that I (or someone like me) would ever look at it. It’s assuming that I’m a (straight) male. I can only handle so many Olympia-style, reclined, Venus nudes. Hey Bro, I painted this hot naked chick for you to look at! That’s the dominance of the male gaze, folks. And it’s refreshing to learn about people like Hannah Hoch, who directly challenged this gender bias in art, before it was “cool” to do so.